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Gypsy Moths Stopped by Fungus

February 1997

Clearly, 1996 was not the year of the gypsy moth.

The populations of leaf-devouring caterpillars that have devastated forests in the Northeast and Midwest have plummeted to extremely low levels in two of their primary states, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The reason appears to be a combination of wet weather and a fungus disease, according to NSF-funded Jack Schultz, a professor of entomology at Pennsylvania State University.

The fungus showed up about 20 years ago, Schultz told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "[It] seems to be very widespread now, and is killing lots of gypsy moth caterpillars."

Destruction done by gypsy moths hit a high in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey in 1990. In Pennsylvania, the caterpillars defoliated more than 4,360,000 acres. In New Jersey, the damage was estimated at 431,200 acres.

The low point of destruction for both states came in 1994 when the caterpillars claimed only 18,000 acres per state. While the loss in Pennsylvania went back up to 132,000 acres in 1995, Schultz does not expect the 1996 numbers to be nearly so drastic. "We're still at the bottom of the trough," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

However, he adds, it's unlikely the gypsy moth will remain forever quelled by a fungus. "We should see another major outbreak in central Pennsylvania in about 1998-99," Schultz reported. "This year there are more of them [than at the 1994 low point] but not so the average person would notice."


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